Russian blockade of Ukrainian wheat may compound global food insecurity, UN crisis co-ordinator says

·4 min read
Anti-tank obstacles stand in a wheat field at a farm in southern Ukraine's Mykolaiv region on Saturday. With Ukraine unable to export most of its wheat and other grains through its Black Sea ports as the Russian invasion continues, there are concerns cutting off the breadbasket of Europe will create and worsen food shortages around the world. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
Anti-tank obstacles stand in a wheat field at a farm in southern Ukraine's Mykolaiv region on Saturday. With Ukraine unable to export most of its wheat and other grains through its Black Sea ports as the Russian invasion continues, there are concerns cutting off the breadbasket of Europe will create and worsen food shortages around the world. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

The Russian blockade of Ukrainian wheat risks worsening global food supply shortages and famine in parts of the world as the breadbasket of Europe is cut off, says the UN crisis co-ordinator for Ukraine.

"Either way we look at it — between fuel energy, food and finance — there is a combined crisis," Amin Awad told CBC-TV's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday

"The world is feeling, seeing [the effects] and it needs to be addressed and addressed quickly."

In February, just days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the UN secretary general appointed Awad, of Sudan, as assistant secretary general to serve in the crisis co-ordinator role.

Russia has been blockading the country's ports, stopping any ships from leaving or entering harbours. The waters around those ports have also been littered with mines, which the two countries blame each other for, and further complicate any potential export of grains.

Ukraine has tried to export grains through neighbouring countries, such as Poland, en route to the Baltic Sea, but Awad said Sunday that represents only a fraction of what the country typically exports.

He said sea transport remains Ukraine's only viable option to export its roughly 20 million tonnes of grain, which is an issue since the eastern European country is a global supplier.

Russia and Ukraine account for more than a quarter of the world's wheat exports. Prices were rising even before the invasion.

WATCH | UN warns of global food crisis, famine as war in Ukraine drags on:

According to the United Nations, most of the 140 million people suffering from acute hunger live in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Macky Sall, president of Senegal and chair of the African Union, has warned the continent could face a serious, destabilizing famine if Ukrainian wheat exports don't resume.

The prices in the world are going up. We see in some countries up to 17 per cent of inflation. We see shortages of food in many parts of the world, especially in the Sahel of Africa, the Horn of Africa and other populous countries that depend on wheat as a staple food. - Amin Awad,  UN crisis co-ordinator for Ukraine

Awad told Rosemary Barton Live: "The prices in the world are going up. We see in some countries up to 17 per cent of inflation. We see shortages of food in many parts of the world, especially in the Sahel of Africa, the Horn of Africa and other populous countries that depend on wheat as a staple food."

As reported by Reuters, Russia's foreign minister said it's down to Ukraine to solve the problem of resuming grain shipments and that the Kremlin denies responsibility for the crisis, blaming western sanctions instead.

Some meetings about opening up the port have taken place, with Russia and Turkey working on a deal, and the United Nations pushing for a sea corridor overseen by Ankara. As reported to Politico, Ukraine has said it wasn't invited to those meetings.

For some Canadian farmers, grain shortages have led to higher prices for wheat, but they also face higher input costs for fertilizer — much of which comes from Russia and is subject to heavy tariffs.

"Even with the increased cost of fertilizer, the price of grain has certainly made up for it," said Don Kabbes, general manager of Great Lakes Grain, which markets grain for Ontario farmers.

"The return that the grower is having is still pretty decent based on the higher price."

He said soon-to-be-harvested Canadian wheat will sell for approximately $12.80 a bushel.

In fact, said Kabbes, Ontario wheat may be priced somewhat over the market value, with a slight decrease in demand for the province's red winter wheat. Despite the high demand elsewhere in the world, he said it hasn't translated to more exporters coming to Ontario.

Canadian farms will try to 'fill that void'

Kabbes said it's not easy for Canada or its farmers to fill demand for wheat that may be exacerbated by shortages created by the war in Ukraine.

Most wheat in southern Ontario is planted in the fall, which means "there's not much opportunity to add more acres," he said.

Still, Canadian farmers will try to grow as much as possible given the circumstances.

"And as commodity prices are high, farmers are going to try and produce as much as they possibly can by using the latest technology and adding whatever they can to that to try and produce as much per acre as possible, and to try and fill that void and and have good returns to their own farming operation."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting